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Wishcycling depicted as a recycling bin next to a cartoon planet earth

What Is Wishcycling and Why Is It Bad for Our Planet?

It's the most anticipated moment of every week in the UK, bin day. 

So you'll imagine my horror when not one, but TWO things went wrong when I went to bring in my recycling bin.

First, it hadn't been emptied. Nor had the rest of the street. It's already happened a couple of times already this year. 

But before I could get too disappointed by that, there was something even more infuriating. 

Someone had wishcycled their 'recycling' into my bin. Soft plastics amongst other bits and pieces that can't be recycled with UK household waste. 

Shock Horror: My Neighbour Wishcycled and Filled my Already Full Recycling Bin!

Wishcycling is a BIG environmental problem

So what's the big deal with wishcycling? What even is it?

Wishcycling is the act of naively dumping your waste (that may or not be recyclable) in the wrong place in the hope that it gets recycled, usually resulting in those items going to waste. 

The immediate impact is just shifting some grunt work onto someone else. I sorted the rubbish they'd dumped into the separate glass caddy, recycling bin and normal waste. I then put on a pair of old boots to stomp down the bin so there was more room for my own recycling. It took me moments, but people with limited mobility or access to a car, unable to go to the tip for example, would be inconvenienced. 

Anyway, the bigger problem with wishcycling is that it is at odds with the good intentions of the wishcycler in the first place. 

The number issue is that waste gets contaminated. Thankfully in my case, I could sort all of what had been dumped in my bin.

But when contaminated loads of recycling reach the recycling facility, and there are too many unrecyclable items, they may have to dump the whole load. This is because it is too time-consuming and costly to sort through the items.

As a result, we're filling landfills at an alarming rate. We all know that a truck full of clothing is dumped in landfill every second (Ellen MacArthur Foundation).

When we don't recycle items properly, we're losing precious materials that could be made into something new. Plastic is of course derived from oil, a scarce resource that will run out. As demand for new plastic and new oil continues to grow it results in increasingly desperate attempts to plumb the depths of the earth in search of oil. None of this is good for the planet.

Wishcycling in Fashion

Wishcycling isn't just my rant on people who fill neighbour's bins with unrecyclable items. It's a much broader idea, that we're all guilty of at some point. 

When it comes to fashion, wishcycling is rife in terms of charity shop and second hand donations. We might throw an old T-shirt in a bag, hoping it will benefit somebody, when it truth we wouldn't choose to wear it.

In this case, you could instead put it in a rag bag to donate separately. Although as we already discovered, textile recycling does not always end up recycling!

Read More: Here's Where Textiles Really End Up.


Another big area of wishcycling is to do with electronics. Despite our best efforts, old cables, broken headphones and faulty electronics are really tricky to recycle.

Some items can be broken down into their consituent parts to be reused. Other bits can be melted down and recycled. E-waste often contains precious minerals such as gold and silver

But it takes a lot of labour to disassemble computers, phones and other electronics.

If e-waste is not properly disposed of (i.e sent to landfill) then toxic materials like lead and mercury can leach into the soil and into our waterways. This affects our flora, fauna - also posing a risk to our food and water supplies. 

Planned obsolesence is still very much something that forces us to keep upgrading our phones and other e-devices. They get to a certain age before they no longer support updates, apps stop working and eventually the whole thing dies. 

If you want to read more about planned obsolesence, and how a 122-year-old light bulb still glows brightly today in Livermore, California's fire station then do have a look at BBC articles article on the 'truth' about planned obsolesence. 

In the article, Judith Chevalier, professor of finance and economics at Yale University raises a point about how planned obsolescence is something that isn't just about greedy companies wanting to make a profit. It's also down to the throwaway consumer culture that we have. We like shiny new things, so it makes it easier to feed into that desire when our not so shiny things stop working properly. 

But where does that culture comes from? Is it something we're born into? Do we create it? Or are bombarded with adverts all day every day - is consumer culture something that big businesses sustain?

Anyway, to tie this back into wishcycling - a simple way to reduce the amount of e-waste is to try to cut back on any desire to buy new gadgets. Hold back on the phone upgrade. Repair and replace parts where you can. Then have somewhere in mind where you can donate your electronics when you're done with them. 

Plastic Bags and Soft Plastics

Now we've come full circle, back to my bin being filled up with all sorts on bin day. Really, I wouldn't mind, if the stuff inside wasn't non-recyclable. 

Some of the wishcycling was soft plastics which need to be recycled at larger supermarkets with carrier bags. Not in your neighbour's bin.

Waitrose are one of the latest supermarkets to announce a soft plastics recycling scheme. Lots of other shops have taken this up in the last few years including Tesco, Sainsbury's and Co-Op. 

You'll notice that lots of items will now say "recycle with carrier bags at larger stores" on them. But even food packaging or bags that don't can still be recycled - so long as the plastic springs back into shape when you scrunch it. 

Not all recycling schemes are the same, and items may vary so it is best to check with each supermarket.

Out of interest, Waitrose's soft plastics get sent to Glasgow, where the plastics are washed, separated and then flaked or pelletised to make it into something new. 

Yes, it still takes some effort not to wishcycle and to instead take your separated rubbish to a supermarket. But it's worth it if it means the plastics get properly recycled, rather than piling up in landfills and harming our planet!

Make sure your recycling is going to the right place: Where to Recycle in Tyne and Wear.

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